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Despite the Heisman for Lamar Jackson and some blowout wins for Louisville, the 2016 season didn’t really amount to much. The Cardinals got off to a great start, but that was partly due to schedule as they lost their final three games of the year and were blown out by Houston and LSU. To surpass last year’s nine wins, it’s going to take an even better Jackson and better offensive line.

Unfortunately for Jackson, the offensive line is still going to be an issue after giving up 47 sacks a year ago. That group is somewhat rebuilding, while the skill players around Jackson are still a question. Jeremy Smith (382 yards, 8 TDs) will take over as the top running back with Jaylen Smith (599 yards, 6 TDs) and Reggie Bonnafon the expected to be top options in the receiving game. Jackson was great with 3,543 passing yards, 30 TDs and nine picks to go with 1,571 yards and 21 TDs on the ground, but a weak offensive line was too much to overcome against better teams. While he worked on his pocket passing in the offseason, that may not matter unless the line figures things out.

The defensive side was underrated for the most part last season and that group returns nine starters after allowing just 23.3 points per game. While they may not be one of the elite groups after getting gashed on the ground, the Cards are still loaded with playmakers. Starting in the secondary not many are better than corner Jaire Alexander and he’s joined by senior safety Chucky Williams. James Hearns and Drew Bailey bring experience at end for a deep group along the line, while Stacy Thomas hopes to take Keith Kelsey’s spot at linebacker. At defensive coordinator, Peter Sirmon switched spots with Todd Grantham, coming over from Mississippi State, although that doesn't mean the defense will get better.

Louisville has hopes to make the ACC title game, but a difficult schedule may be too much to overcome. The Cardinals start ACC play early with a trip to UNC followed by a huge game against Clemson in the middle of September. Things don’t get any easier with road games at Florida State, NC State and Wake Forest to follow before closing the regular season with a road game at Kentucky. 

Partly because of the schedule and other part some of the valuable pieces lost, Louisville has the third-best odds (+400 at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the conference, although still have the eighth-best odds at +2200 to win the National Championship. If Jackson gets better, there’s no telling how this season turns out for Louisville, but with an arguably weaker group around him and tougher schedule, it’ll be hard for the Cardinals to surpass 10 wins or even last year’s nine. On the positive side of things, they don’t have to play a team like Houston in non-conference so those 10 wins are attainable.


2017 Louisville Cardinals Football Schedule

Sept. 2 vs. Purdue
Sept. 9 at North Carolina
Sept. 16 vs. Clemson
Sept. 23 vs. Kent State

Sept. 30 vs. Murray State
Oct. 5 at NC State
Oct. 14 vs. Boston College

Oct. 21 at Florida State
Oct. 28 at Wake Forest
Nov. 11 vs. Virginia
Nov. 18 vs. Syracuse
Nov. 25 at Kentucky

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